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Winnow choices for new mower

(ran HS edition)

Whenever the rain resumes again, it will be back to a regular schedule of grass-cutting, and you may be in the market for a new mower. If so, you will want to choose carefully. A lawn mower represents a sizable investment, and the features you want will determine the cost of the mower.

Do you want a riding mower or a walk-behind? An electric start or a pull cord? How much power do you really need for your yard size? We'll help you sort through the questions so that, when you're faced with a final choice, you'll make just the right one.

2-cycle or 4-cycle engine?

A lawn mower is a relatively simple machine powered by a gasoline engine, which turns the blade, which cuts the grass. The heart of any gas-powered mower is the 2- or 4-cycle engine. Two-cycle engines require a combination of gas and oil to run, whereas 4-cycle engines run on straight gas. Although the performance of each is essentially the same, let's face it: Mixing gas and oil can be a hassle.

Horsepower ratings

The most important thing to consider when deciding about a lawn mower engine is its horsepower rating. Typically ratings range from a low of 3 horsepower to a high of 6. As you might guess, as horsepower goes up, so does price.

A 3- to 4-horsepower engine should suffice if you have a small lawn and your grass is fine-bladed, such as fescue. If your lawn is larger and your grass is coarse, such as Bermuda or zoysia, then you will need at least a 5-horsepower mower. If you buy more horsepower than you need for the job, you are paying for overkill, and, besides, mowers generally cut better at slower speeds.

Cutting height

Virtually all mowers have variable cutting heights, but some designs are better and easier to adjust than others. Ideally, heights should range from 1 to 4 inches to accommodate the ideal cutting height for any turf grass.

On most mowers a lever at each wheel adjusts the height to six different positions. Fancier models may have handles that you turn to adjust the height on all four wheels simultaneously.

Raise the variable cutting height one notch during the spring and fall and two notches during the summer. Keeping the height high will make for a better-looking lawn and fewer weeds.

Mulching mowers

The latest innovation among mowers is the mulcher design, which takes grass clippings and shreds them into fine particles, eliminating the need for a grass catcher. Many older mowers can be converted to mulchers with kits that sell for around $40, but, if you're buying a brand-new mulching mower, you can expect to pay between $300 and $600.

Of course, grass catchers, whether rear-or side-discharge types, still have their place and are the preferred choice for many homeowners.

Riding mowers

If you have a really big lawn, it might be wise to consider a riding mower. Though the cost for a riding mower ranges from $1,500 to more than $6,000, the benefits you receive may be well worth it. Some riding mowers offer cutting widths up to 46 inches, which can decrease mowing time considerably, and some are available with helpful attachments such as rototillers and aerators.

Manual mowers

Finally, if you have a small lawn or are short on funds, try a "human-powered," or manual, mower. They work well, they don't create air or noise pollution, and they're inexpensive, between $100 and $200 to buy and next to nothing in maintenance costs (you do have to sharpen the blades). And think of the workout you'll get mowing your lawn!

Taken from HGTV's Gardening by the Yard.

For more information, contact Lawn-Boy Distributors Inc., 2725 Tobey Drive, Indianapolis, IN; (800) 526-6937; http://www.lawnboy.com.

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